Greatest No. 1 picks to play for multiple teams
John Tavares is one of two first-overall NHL draft picks born on Sept. 20. He will also soon be among those who did not stay with the franchise that selected them.
In the Amateur/Entry Draft era, Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux stands out among legends who spent their career with one organization. Fellow top choices Gilbert Perreault (Buffalo) and Denis Potvin (New York Islanders) are not far behind.
Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid may join that group. But they simply cannot assure that until they retire.
Meanwhile, after nine years with the Islanders, Tavares has transferred to Toronto. But until he logs an official game with the Maple Leafs, he is not yet among the multi-team first picks.
Those who are already in that group will give him elite company. Some stood out with their original employer, then spent some harder-to-remember years elsewhere. Others stunned their first fan base by accepting a trade or signing a free-agent pact in their prime.
Either way, these are the 10 greatest first-overall NHL draft picks to fulfill expectations and spread their wealth of talent. All statistics and award information are according to Hockey Reference.
10. Taylor Hall
After two injury-shortened seasons to start his career, the first draftee of this decade broke out in 2013. Playing all but three games on a lockout-shortened schedule, a 21-year-old Hall led Edmonton with 50 points.
The following year, he eclipsed his previous NHL career high of 65 games played by suiting up for 75. He again averaged more than a point per night with 80.
After leading the Oilers a third time in 2015-16, Hall was sent to New Jersey. There he tied Kyle Palmieri with 53 points, then surged to a career-high 93 and the Hart Trophy in 2017-18.
9. Ilya Kovalchuk
Beginning in 2003-04, when he shared the Rocket Richard Trophy with Rick Nash, Kovalchuk led all Atlanta point-getters four times in five seasons. He most likely would have done it again in 2009-10 if not for a midseason trade to New Jersey.
Twice in three full seasons as a Devil, Kovalchuk finished a close second in scoring to Patrik Elias. The exception was 2011-12, when he topped New Jersey’s chart with 83 points. For that, he finished among the top 10 MVP vote-getters for the second time in his career.
8. Vincent Lecavalier
After drawing pre-draft comparisons to Lemieux, among others, Lecavalier took a while to fulfill his first-overall promise. He led a struggling Tampa Bay team in scoring once in his first seven seasons.
But by the time the Bolts were to be taken seriously, he was in the thick of a solid scoring cast. He eventually reached the top with 108 points, including a league-best 52 goals, in 2006-07. He followed that with 92 points in 2007-08.
After the turn of the decade, injuries took a slight toll on Lecavalier’s productivity. Nonetheless, he left the Lightning with 874 points in 1,037 games over 14 seasons. For the next three years, he gave the Flyers and Kings a little depth before retiring.
7. Pierre Turgeon
After a so-so rookie season in Buffalo, Turgeon surged to lead all Sabres scorers in back-to-back years. Only the second-ranked player on this list prevented him from three-peating that distinction in 1990-91.
Dealt to the Islanders the next year, Turgeon proceeded to lead his new team with 87, 132 and 94 points. He likewise topped Montreal’s chart with 96 points in 1995-96, his only full season as a Canadien.
Turgeon might have done the same for St. Louis had be spent all of 1996-97 with the Blues. He eventually did lead them with 82 points in 1999-00, St. Louis’ Presidents’ Trophy campaign.
Turgeon’s career-high 132-point run with the Islanders helped him finish fifth in the 1993 Hart Trophy vote. While leading the Blues in 1999-00, he gained consideration for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward.
6. Mats Sundin
To start his career, instant hit Joe Sakic did not have much of a supporting cast on the Quebec Nordiques. The holes in the team’s depth grew more apparent when Peter Stastny left in 1990.
But the year prior, Quebec used its top pick to claim Sundin. For his first two NHL seasons, the young Swede replaced Stastny as Sakic’s distant second fiddle. By his third year, he burgeoned to the tune of 114 points.
In six of the seven seasons that followed, Sundin averaged a point per game or better. He started getting more recognition after Quebec traded him to Toronto, where he stayed in the 70- or 80-point range for 14 straight seasons.
By the time he went to Vancouver for one more campaign in 2008-09, Sundin had received Hart Trophy votes five times and Selke consideration twice. He was never a finalist for those prizes, but would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2012.
5. Joe Thornton
Thornton’s lone MVP season was also the one he split between his two career employers. Eight-and-a-half years after drafting him, the Boston Bruins shocked their fans by shipping him to San Jose.
With 33 points as a Bruin and 92 as a Shark that 2005-06 season, Thornton also earned the Art Ross Trophy. Those 125 points included 96 assists, a category he would lead the league in for three straight seasons.
Through 20 seasons so far, Thornton has been placed on one first all-star team and three second teams. His earliest honor came in 2002-03, his latest in 2015-16. He has also received Selke votes in 11 of his first 13 seasons with the Sharks.
Minus the abbreviated 2012-13 season, Thornton totaled at least 60 points every year between 1999-00 and 2015-16. At age 37, he managed 50 points the next year, followed by 36 in 47 games in 2017-18.
4. Mike Modano
The first-ballot Hall of Famer spent half of his last NHL season with his hometown Detroit Red Wings. Otherwise, Modano was the face of the Minnesota/Dallas organization from the day of his selection in 1988.
Joining the North Stars after one more year of major junior, Modano tallied 75 points as a rookie and finished second in the Calder Trophy race. (Sergei Makarov, a 31-year-old Soviet defector, won the honor that year.)
By his third season in 1991-92, Modano was Minnesota’s top producer. For 10 seasons out of 12, whenever he stayed healthy, he continued to lead the Stars, sometimes eclipsing the first runner-up by 30 points.
After a dropoff in output the year before the 2004-05 lockout, Modano led all Dallas point-getters once more in 2005-06. While his success did not reap spectacular league-wide rewards, that year did mark his sixth with Hart Trophy votes. He also gained Selke consideration 10 times, including once as a finalist in 2001 and as late as his final season in Dallas.
3. Eric Lindros
Famously (or infamously) selected by Quebec in 1991, Lindros spent another year in major junior, refusing to join the Nordiques. He finally broke in with the Flyers, and promptly logged seven solid seasons.
During that stretch, Lindros was among the Hart Trophy’s top 10 candidates five times. He won the MVP prize upon leading the league with 70 points in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. The next year, he posted a career-high 115 points, and finished third among the Hart finalists. The sizeable center was also a three-time Selke candidate, receiving votes in 1995-96, 1996-97 and 1998-99.
The next season, concussions slowed him down and precipitated an ugly exit from Philadelphia. Lindros held out in 2000-01, then joined the New York Rangers, whom he led with 73 points in 72 games. He finished second on another non-playoff Ranger team with 53 points in 2002-03.
After that, Lindros played three incomplete, unremarkable seasons with New York, Toronto and Dallas. But he had already secured the credentials that would land him in the Hall of Fame’s class of 2016.
2. Dale Hawerchuk
By the time Hawerchuk left Winnipeg, he had led the Jets in point production nine years running. On six occasions, he broke triple digits, and was often the only player on his team to do so.
His Calder Trophy-winning campaign in 1981-82 was also his first of four appearances on the Hart ballot. He came the closest to the honor in 1984-85, when his career-high 130 points made him the first runner-up. The only player to eclipse him was Wayne Gretzky with 208 points.
After moving to Buffalo in the 1990 offseason, Hawerchuk kept up his team-leading ways for two more years. Even when he finally finished below the top, he placed third on the 1992-93 Sabres with 96 points. The next season, he led his team again with 89 points.
Upon closing his career with stints in St. Louis and Philadelphia, Hawerchuk had 1,409 points in 1,188 games. The 1997 retiree joined the Hall of Fame on his second ballot in 2001.
1. Guy Lafleur
The other first-overall NHL draft pick born on Sept. 20 is also the greatest to have catered to multiple markets.
Three years after Montreal traded for the right to choose him, Lafleur hit his peak. He would tally triple-digit points in six consecutive seasons, including four straight championship runs.
Within that stretch, he led the league in scoring for three consecutive years. Those three Art Ross Trophies came with the Pearson Award as the league MVP in the eyes of his peers. He also won back-to-back Harts in 1977 and 1978.
If that were not enough, he received the 1977 Conne Smythe Trophy after tallying a career-high 26 playoff points. He led all postseason scorers again while leading the Habs to the Cup in 1978 and 1979.
When he initially retired in 1985, Lafleur had already generated 1,246 points in 961 regular-season games, all with the Canadiens. But all things considered, he was not in bad shape when he returned in 1988-89. He would contribute 45 points in 67 games for the Rangers, then 62 points over the next two seasons with the Nordiques.